March 30, 2017

Oscars: Is “The Help” our current frontrunner? – AWARDS ALLEY


By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: For a handful of reasons, Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, feels like it could lay claim to the title of Best Picture frontrunner.

The film has impressive box office stats ($167.4 million domestically), decent reviews (62 on MetaCritic, 75% on Rotten Tomatoes), and at least one cast member in Viola Davis who’s largely believed to be a lock for an Oscar nomination.

“The Help” also is the type of film the Academy hoped to include when it expanded the Best Picture category from 5 films to 10 two years back. There’s no telling how things will land this year, however.

Plus – and this is important – no other film has come along to wrestle the frontrunner status away from “The Help.” That doesn’t mean another film won’t open between now and the end of the year to swing momentum away from Taylor’s film. And declaring “The Help” the favorite to win Best Picture is liking crowning a World Series winner after the third inning of Game One. But at this moment in the long, long race, it’s easy to see why some Oscar trackers are seeing Taylor’s film as the one to beat.

Take Mark Harris. He recently filed a ballot on Gold Derby picking “The Help” for Best Picture and Davis for Best Actress.

Across the way, however, Jeff Wells responds in the negative, saying that the film “has never had genuine Best Picture heat and never will have genuine Best Picture heat because no one of any perception or integrity thinks it’s any kind of four-star achievement. It’ll probably be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar but solely because it made a lot of money. Even if the Oscar goes to the most popular film without regard to quality, Harris seems to be forgetting that a majority of Academy members are male. There are no beer-sipping, Cosby-sweater-wearing, baseball-bat-swinging guys out there who think The Help is any kind of great film…none.”

It’s hard to argue that point when you look back over the list of recent Best Picture winners. Titles like “The King’s Speech,” “The Hurt Locker,” “No Country for Old Men” and “The Departed” skew toward a male perspective, often to the detriment of movies like “The Queen,” “Juno” and “The Blind Side,” to name a few.

Like I said, it’s too early to be talking frontrunners. And Disney likely wouldn’t want the status, given the fact that frontrunners tend to draw unwanted criticism at this early stage. But “The Help” is maintaining momentum, and with a December DVD release date fast arriving, I’m wondering how quickly Taylor’s film can ascend in the discussion as other films fall by the wayside.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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